***********************THREE DAYS LATER**********************
Three hours. I’ve counted. Three hours of sleep in total for the past three days.
I’ve started using foundation again - this time to cover the dark bags under my eyes. Guitar has been - and will be from now on - my foundation for staying awake. I’m getting a lot better, though still not as good as Niall. I’ve learned in total about 10 songs in the past three days. That’s how long my nights are.
The rest of the boys are asleep right now. I pluck string after string as the bus drives down the highway. I’ve talked to the bus driver about me playing late at night, but he doesn’t mind. He says that it keeps him awake. Thankfully, it keeps me awake as well.
Zayn is still on my back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a look from him. He’s even tried to stay up with me. He always falls asleep though, and I have to wake him up to bring him back to his bunk. Niall still doesn’t know that I stay up. I avoid issues like that by waiting for him to fall asleep and then coming out here to set my alarms. I’ve figured out his internal schedule - I know when to climb back into our bunk for him to wake up.
The only evidence of my nights up is the fact that I’m starting to become more and more distant from reality - losing track of conversations, spacing off, having trouble grasping some topics. I’m trying to sleep, I really am. I just can’t have those nightmares. Every time I feel myself drifting off, I turn my alarm on. When it wakes me up, I usually can’t fall back asleep for a long time. Thus, only three hours asleep total.
It’s currently 2:38 in the morning, and we’ll be in San Diego in about 8 hours. My eyelids are becoming increasingly droopy, and I pull out my phone as I set the guitar and pick aside. Suddenly, my body falls to the side at the smallest movement of the bus. Did I mention I’ve been growing increasingly weaker? Well, yeah.
Thankfully I land on the couch, my body sprawled clear across it. Before my overly tired eyes have a chance to close, I unlock my phone. I feel myself start to slip into unconsciousness as I open the alarm app. My eyes reluctantly close as I press my finger down on the screen. But I realize as my mind starts to shut off that I’ve missed the ‘set’ button.
“He doesn’t love you,” my father snarls, taking a step closer.
I stumble back a bit. This feels like a dagger in my chest. I know my father is wrong. Niall loves me. He’s here for me, whenever I need him. I tell myself this over and over, finally feeling some of the emotional pain slip away.
“You’re wrong,” I say flatly. I spin around and reach for Niall’s hand.
Only he’s not there.
Why must this dream keep hurting me? Why does it torture me so?
My hand closes around nothing, and my mouth drops open. I do a full 360, trying to find Niall - but he’s nowhere in sight. I cringe, thinking about what’s going to happen - I’m alone with my father. And this didn’t end well last time. Oh God.
“Where’s lover boy now?” my father mocks behind me. He lets out a cruel laugh as he strides the rest of the distance to me, and I can feel his hot breath on my neck.
I cringe, the pain in my chest returning. Where’s Niall? Where is the boy I love? Oh my God. What’s going to happen!?
“I think it’s about time we finish what we started, huh Maci?” he hisses.
I don’t even bother turning around. Instead, I make a mad dash for any place away from here. Away from him. I hear his throaty laugh behind me.
“You can’t run from me Maci. I’m everywhere.”
My head whips back to look behind me. But what I see - or more like what I don’t see - makes me stop dead. My father is gone. Just like Niall had disappeared, my father is gone. I’m not convinced yet, though. I have to go find Niall - now.
Still looking back, I take a full stride before connecting with something. I stumble back, trying to gain my balance again as I look at what stopped me. Lo and behold, my father has impossibly reappeared in front of me.
With a gasp I shoot up, my eyes wide. I immediately curl into a bawl, shoving my head between my knees.
“It’s okay, Maci,” I whisper to myself. “You’re okay. Niall’s here for you. You’re with the boys. Everything is fine.” My heart slowly goes back to normal speed. I curse under my breath and sigh, closing my eyes and flopping back down on the couch.
“I told you, you can’t escape sleep forever,” Zayn’s voice says beside the couch, making me nearly jump out of my skin.
“Zayn!” I hiss, turning to see him sitting cross-legged, facing the couch. “Don’t do that! I thought I told you not to scare the bejesus out of me!”
He shrugs. “Sorry.”
I roll my eyes. “I know I can’t ‘escape’ sleep forever. I don’t intend to. I’m actually getting some sleep, thank you very much.”
“How much?” he asks, resting his chin in his hand.
I sigh. “Go to bed, Zayn.”
I throw my head in my hands. “Three hours, Zayn.”
“No. Total, since Denver.” I let out a deep breath.
“Maci,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder. “This isn’t healthy, and you know it.”
“As long as I don’t have to see, smell, hear, or touch him again, I don’t care,” I say, shrugging him off.
“Maci, think this through,” he reasons. “Remember how we talked about your sanity?” I nod. “This is wearing on your sanity. Staying awake is doing things to your head, and that’s why you’re having the same bad dream over and over.”
“You don’t know that,” I sniff.
“Okay, Maci,” he sighs, throwing his hands in the air. “I don’t know that. I’m only trying to look out for you. You can’t keep going on like this. What if it gets worse, though?”
“I don’t see how it can get worse. My father’s already taken away my dreams, and he’s not even here. What’s next?”
“Your mind,” he says flatly.
I shake my head. “He won’t do that. I won’t let him.”
“Maci, he already has.”
My stomach drops, despite knowing he’s wrong. “No. No he hasn’t.”
“Think about it,” he says, getting up and sitting on the couch next to me. “He took over your life when you were living with him. Sure, he’s taken over your dreams. And now that you’re away from him, you’re just worrying about staying away from him. He’s in your dreams, right?”
“Nightmares,” I correct.
He nods. “Nightmares, then. You want to stay away from your dreams. Therefore, you’re not sleeping - if you do, it’s not for very long. You’re losing sleep - wearing thin, growing weaker - because of the thought of him. He’s in your mind, dictating what you do. Look at the bags under your eyes, Maci.”
I reach up to touch under my eyes. Even though I can’t see them, I know the dark spots under my eyes are there.
“You’ve started covering them up - yes, I’ve seen the foundation in your bag. You used to cover your bruises up with foundation, Maci. Do you see how this is turning out just like when you lived at home?”
My eyes go wide and my mouth drops open. He’s right. My hands fly up to my face again, covering up the spots under my eyes.
“Zayn,” I say, tears pricking at my eyes. “I can’t fall back asleep. I can’t see him again.”
“You can get through this,” Zayn says, taking my hands away from my face. “You’ve just got to let someone help.”
That’s when I start to sob. The tears flow from my eyes and down my cheeks. “This is my problem,” I whimper, turning my head away. “I can’t trouble anyone with it, especially not you and-”
“Maci?” someone’s groggy voice says from by the door. They step into the light and I freeze, my chest heaving.
“-Niall,” I breathe.
I wake up to the quiet sound of Maci’s sobs. Immediately I reach out, trying to pull her close to me. But she’s not here. My chest heaves but I listen closer, trying to find where it’s coming from. My feet carry me down from the bunk and to the doorway leading into the front room.
“You can get through this,” I hear Zayn say. “You’ve just got to let someone help.”
“This is my problem,” Maci’s voice whimpers. “I can’t trouble anyone with it, especially not you and-”
“Maci?” I say, not able to hear her crying without me there. I step out into the light and see Zayn sitting next to her on the couch while she sobs.
“-Niall,” she breathes.
“What’s the matter, Love?” I say, hurrying over. I pull her into my lap and she buries her face in my chest, grabbing a handful of my t-shirt. There’s a long pause where no one speaks. “Maci,” I say, wanting to know the cause of her tears.
“Maci,” Zayn says quietly. “You need our help to get through this.”
I feel her shoulders shake against me and I pull back to look at her face. I can see that there are deep bags under her eyes, and I kiss away the tears on her cheeks. “You can tell me, Love.”
She sniffs and looks up at me. “My… My father is… I can’t fall asleep without having a nightmare about him.”
My chest heaves and I nuzzle my face in her neck. “I’m so sorry,” I mumble, holding her tighter.
“And…” she continues. “I’m… I’m not sleeping.”
“I understand,” I say. If I were having nightmares, I would be losing sleep, too.
“I don’t think… I don’t think you do.”
Zayn shifts beside us. “I’m going to let you two alone,” he mumbles, walking back to his bunk and sliding the curtain shut.
“Then help me understand,” I tell her.
“I… I’m choosing… I’m making myself stay awake.”
My stomach drops. “That’s not good, Maci. You can’t force yourself to stay awake. You’ll… You’ll get sick, you’ll make falling asleep so much worse for your find. And you can’t stay awake forever, so why try?”
She sighs heavily and takes my chin in her hand, making me look at her. “I can’t see him again. I can’t see, hear, feel my father again. It’s killing me.”
My chest heaves again, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. “He’s not really here, Maci. I’m here, I’m real. I can help you through this, if you’d just let me.”
“Go to bed, Niall,” she tells me, but this makes me hold her tighter.
“I can’t,” I tell her honestly. “Not without knowing you’re not hurting yourself.”
“Nothing is going to make it better!” she suddenly snaps, causing me to recoil a bit. Her face immediately softens and she cups my cheek. “I’m sorry,” she says, pecking my lips. She pulls away and gives me a sad smile. “This is just something I have to get over on my own.”
“Well, that’s just too damn bad,” I tell her, shifting on the couch so she’s lying down on top of me. I put my hands behind my head and stare at the ceiling, eyes wide open.
“What are you doing?” she hesitates, looking at my face.
“And how is this helping me?”
I smile softly and peck her lips. “I’m going to stay awake with you.”